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A new perspective on the dark side of the 'race to the bottom'

A new perspective on the dark side of the 'race to the bottom'

August 18, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

"That's how much we sell our games for. One dollar. They're meant to be $10, but nobody buys them at $10."
- Indie developer Caspian Prince laments the drop in perceived value for digital games caused by phenomena like Steam sales and bundle deals.

One of the developers at Puppygames (Revenge of the Titans, Alien Flux) has published a vicious rant on his company blog that evinces some of the uncomfortable truths of the digital game market -- even as it eviscerates some of its participants.

Developers, take note: while some of Prince's rhetoric savages the industry, the experience he relates -- watching the value of Puppy Games' titles plummet in the wake of Steam's sale scheme and bundle dealerships like Humble Bundle -- is common.

"Once upon a time, back in the early 2000s or so, games would sell for about $20 or so. Some developers did really well at that price point - I mean really well. Most of us didn't do that well, and made beer money, but we carried on making games anyway because that's what we liked to do, even if nobody wanted them," writes Prince.

But then Steam rose to prominence, and according to Prince, "within 5 short years, the value of an independent game plummeted from about $20 to approximately $1, with very few exceptions. Steam is great! You can sell loads of games! But only if they're less than $10."

And as the revenue from individual customers drops, argues Prince, so does the value of that customer in the eyes of the developer. Thus, developers are discouraged from providing post-release support for their games because the value of a repeat customer is close to nil.

Better to focus on making more games to feed the "black hole" of the various digital distribution platforms, says Prince, than to help troubleshoot the PCs of customers who probably paid a dollar for your game.

"No-one cares," writes Prince, addressing his most critical customers. "You can 'take your money elsewhere' and 'never buy another product from you again, EVER,' and the black hole will continue to treat you exactly as you deserve - with impassive, voracious, inexorable silence, and still ever-growing. Because you're worthless."

Prince goes into much more (savage) detail in the full rant, which can be read over on the Puppygames blog.

He's not alone, either -- Castle Doctrine developer Jason Rohrer has written at length about the dangers rampant game sales pose to the industry, while Gamesbrief founder Nicholas Lovell recently suggested that Valve's decision to let developers set their own discounts on Steam would see the average price of Steam games race to the bottom.

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